Last week, we saw 640,000 children absent from school due to COVID, and with government guidance for parents and schools set to change as of the 19th July, and educational bubbles expected to be scrapped, there will be many parents at a loss and anxious as to what this might mean for them if COVID cases continue to rise.
We recently polled working parents asking whether over the course of the pandemic they had been forced to take time off to look after children who either had COVID or had been asked to isolate. Of those that answered, 14% had taken time off but a massive 86% stated they worked whilst juggling career and family responsibilities. Neither of these options are ideal, with both ending in potential burnout, last-minute resourcing issues, and a decrease in productivity for businesses.
So, how can businesses help manage the ups and downs of changing government guidance – especially as parents begin to prepare for a new school year in September?
Acknowledge the problem
We all know that the easing of lockdown and the move into stage four of the government’s roadmap is unlikely to go as planned. Many of us are expecting to have to isolate if we come into contact with the virus – but an often unforeseen issue is that the inconvenience of this is far greater for parents (especially those with younger children unable to occupy themselves at home).
Businesses need to show compassion and quickly let employees know that they are aware of the stress that comes with looking after children during a pandemic. Providing individuals with an opportunity to approach management and not feel like a burden or embarrassed by bringing family matters into the workplace is crucial for open communication and happier employees.
People need to know that the business they work for care about them and their family outside of their 9 to 5 commitments. Presenting the issue of childcare as a joint challenge that organisations can support with will be appreciated and eventually rewarded with hard work and loyalty in return. People want to work for companies that care.
Make the juggling a bit easier
Parents using annual leave to look after children during the pandemic should not be the only way to manage virus outbreaks and isolation, nor should juggling childcare with a full workload become normal.
Companies can do two things really easily. They can have line-managers identify those in their team with children and begin conversations to understand the stresses at home and how they can support them. If workloads are too much or stressful more can be done to lessen this load and redirect work to teams less busy, or move back deadlines to accommodate individuals having to look after children. Equally, for businesses that can, offering staff flexible hours to get their work done either earlier or later in the day, or in fewer hours (if the work is done then individuals who can work more efficiently should not be penalised) then they should be offering this to those that need it.
Provide the right tools
Software that can be used by HR and employees that encourages autonomy and offers visibility, will mean that managers and business leaders know who is working, who is not, and why there is absence. Providing insight means that managers can better support teams and individuals who are struggling looking after children, whilst trying to manage a full-time job.
Companies need sophisticated platforms that cater to absence requirements whether they be sickness, holiday, or childcare. Working requirements have changed and so have our social habits, so technology that acknowledges individual needs from self-isolation to teaching from home, will be key as we attempt to move out of the pandemic.
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